Over 81,000 business premises were visited by bailiffs last year over unpaid business rates, an investigation has revealed.
Under the rights of a Freedom of Information request, real estate advisor Altus Group received details from all councils in England on how many business premises had been referred to bailiffs – now known as Enforcement Officers – between 1 April 2017 and 3 March 2018.
Out of 353 councils in England, 264 provided details, covering 83% of all commercial properties.
Bailiffs by council
• Birmingham City Council – 3,864 referrals
• Manchester City Council – 2,667 referrals
• Liverpool, Coventry, Hounslow and Brent Councils – all over 1,000 referrals
The data showed that, on average, bailiffs were sent to 222 business owners every day in the first year since business rates revaluation. In total, 67,705 instructions were made to bailiffs.
Altus Group claimed that changes to small business rate relief had seen more owners struggle to pay bills than the previous year.
After a Liability Order has been obtained, bailiffs are instructed by local authorities to collect a debt on their behalf to recover unpaid business rates. Bailiffs can enter premises to seize goods and sell those at public auction, with the proceeds used to settle the debt, a process known as “distress”.
Read more about business rates:
- The business rates loopholes your small company should know
- The business rates appeal process – Paying over the odds for your premises?
- One founder a week faces 90-day prison sentence for unpaid business rates
Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus Group, explained why local authorities had accelerated their pursuit of unpaid bills.
“Councils are taking enforcement action much earlier since their finances became more aligned to business rates income,” he said.
“This sometimes leads to companies with manifestly incorrect demands receiving summonses and facing enforcement action. The problem is also exacerbated by understaffing within some councils and the inordinate delays that this creates in dealing with ratepayers.”
Businesses in England could face a rates hike of £759m next year, Altus Group has predicted, with the inflation measure used to calculate business rates set to change.
Over the last 10 years, business owners have seen rates increase by a third, or £6.04bn. Business rates income is expected to reach £24.8bn in England this year.
For independent traders in London’s East End, it’s business as usual. Same rent increases, same business rates hikes, same feeling of abandonment by policy makers. But they aren’t going down without a fight.
Responding to the investigation, Chirag Shah, CEO and founder of Nucleus Commercial Finance, said small business owners had faced “excessive increases” in taxes since business rates revaluation in April 2017.
“Government policies cater to bigger enterprises that squash the success of emerging ones and we urge Chancellor Philip Hammond to address this issue in his upcoming Autumn Budget Statement – ensuring that smaller enterprises, as well as our economy, do not suffer,” Shah said.
“Alongside this we urge businesses to plan for their tax more effectively, thinking ahead and putting the finance aside to pay these crucial bills. The effects of not doing so can be devastating with assets being seized by bailiffs or SMEs being forced out of business.
“If it comes to this business owners need to know that there are financial options out there that can give them some breathing space. We believe that with the right policy landscape and financial support, smaller businesses can continue to demonstrate their expertise and fuel the UK’s economic growth.”
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